This study used basic personal values to elucidate the motivational meanings of ‘left’ and
‘right’ political orientations in 20 representative national samples from the European Social
Survey (2002-3). It also compared the importance of personal values and socio-demographic
variables as determinants of political orientation. Hypotheses drew on the different histories,
prevailing culture, and socio-economic level of 3 sets of countries—liberal, traditional and post-communist. As hypothesized, universalism and benevolence values explained a left orientation in both liberal and traditional countries and conformity and tradition values explained a right orientation; values had little explanatory power in post-communist countries. Values predicted political orientation more strongly than socio-demographic variables in liberal countries, more weakly in post-communist countries, and about equally in traditional countries.